Breaking News
More () »

Gun violence prevention through a public health lens: 'It’s not just a criminal problem'

The Injury & Violence Prevention Center is partnering with state public health officials to create a resource bank for gun violence prevention.

COLORADO, USA — A Colorado department is hoping looking at gun violence in Colorado the same way they look at public health data will help to prevent it.

The Injury & Violence Prevention Center at the University of Colorado is partnering with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Office of Gun Violence Prevention to create a website where people can find data on gun violence in Colorado.

9NEWS spoke with Dr. Emmy Betz, a professor of emergency medicine and the deputy director of the Injury & Violence Prevention Center about the online resource.

The following interview has been edited for clarity.

What do you do at the Injury & Violence Prevention Center?

We’re really interested in looking at all the types of firearm injury and death, so homicide, suicide, domestic partner violence, unintentional shootings in kids and so forth.

But most importantly, [we're] grounded in working with affected communities. So we have researchers and educators in multiple different departments from pediatrics to geriatrics working together and in different ways to try to find different solutions.

What does that partnership with CDPHE's Office of Gun Violence Prevention mean?

We are so thrilled and honored to be working with CDPHE in this new Office of Gun Violence Prevention, which has a big task ahead of them, and so we’re happy to do what we can to support them as an academic scientific partner. 

We’re going to be working to build the resource bank for that office, which will be an online hub of materials that we hope will be informative and useful and accessible to everyone, from the general public to top-level policymakers so that we can all understand what the current situation is in Colorado when it comes to injury and violence related to firearms.

Where does the resource bank stand now? What’s the progress on it, and when will it be available?

We’ve been able to bring together this all-star team of people who have expertise in this space, whether it's building community networks or building data dashboards.

And so our team is hard at work. We’re building the content right now for what will eventually be the webpage, which will have basic, nonpartisan, non-advocacy language about the facts of different types of firearm injury and death in Colorado. Along with an interactive data dashboard so people can really investigate things themselves. 

We’re on track now for a summer-ish launch is my guess. But we’re working hard to get content out as soon as we can because we know people want it. But of course we want it to be done well and be accurate before anything gets released.

Why is it helpful to look at gun violence through a public health lens?

It’s saying it’s not just a criminal problem. It’s not just for police departments or for the criminal system to fix this.

It is a public health issue because people are dying, because people are hurt, and because there are emotional and psychological scars that come from being a victim of gun violence or witnessing it. ... And when I say gun violence, I mean suicide, community violence, mass shootings, all forms of firearm related injury and death.

And then we can use the tools of public health, understanding which populations are affected, which kind of interventions, which kinds of prevention programs might work, and understand [that] what might work for ranchers with suicide risk is going to be different than what’s working for teenagers living in parts of Denver or Aurora. And that’s OK that we can do complex things, we can solve complex problems.

Do you think talking about gun violence through a public health lens takes away some of the political elements that are so often involved when talking about guns?

We certainly hope so because we come at this from a desire to prevent injuries and harm, injuries and deaths to anyone, regardless of their background, regardless of whether they do or don’t own guns. We all share a desire for our families to be healthy and to be happy. 

Are other states doing these kinds of partnerships?

Not that I really know of. I think Colorado is really unique and leading the field in this way, in that there’s a state-funded office that has its own mandate but then partnering with an academic partner this way. ...

There are some other centers around the country that are set up differently, but I think this one in Colorado, we believe at least really has the potential to have a big impact in the state. And hopefully in the country. Hopefully be the model for other states.

Have you received pushback throughout your career because of the type of research you do?

I think sometimes. Mostly when people don’t understand what we’re doing. I think sometimes there’s an initial pushback about what does it matter, or suicide’s not preventable, or some of these misconceptions.

We take that as an opportunity to correct that misunderstanding. ... I would say my experience on the whole has been that people are really interested and appreciative of an approach that cuts through the noise.

And it’s not about yelling at each other, but it's actually about recognizing how much we all have in common and that we can find solutions that can work for our communities. Which is really what this should be about at the end of the day.

Anything else you want to add?

This partnership has allowed us at the Center to engage some really fantastic students. So doctoral students, public health students, who already have incredible skills and are passionate about growing a career in this space. So they’re working hard on the project with us, and my hope is that it will help them grow into their next positions.

More 9NEWS stories by Katie Eastman:    


Before You Leave, Check This Out